Simple Steps to Actionable Insights
A pet-peeve of mine is that many (way too many) market research professionals talk about “actionable insights” and I almost never know what they are talking about. I suspect most of them don’t either. The more our clients complain that research reports are sitting on shelves collecting dust, the louder every research firm starts proclaiming that it delivers actionable insights. Some even claim to have tools that, with the click of a button, deliver actionable insights right to your desktop.
Besides the ugliness of taking a verb (to act) and turning it into a noun (action) and then forcing that into an adjective (actionable), “actionable insight” just doesn’t mean much in our industry. Now we have clients with reports full of “actionable insights” collecting dust on their shelves.
In our view, the problem is that few research professionals make an explicit link in the design phase of their research between the data that will be generated, and the specific decisions that need to be made. If that link is not specified, then even if the report is rich, detailed, and full of insight, chances are it will not be used. And if it is not used, it probably was not “actionable” to begin with.
Here is an example. Suppose you measure customer satisfaction, and then probe deeply into several specific areas. Many think that including more areas to measure and getting granular-level detail will yield “actionable insights.” You will get specific information to help you formulate actions for improvement, right? Wrong. It is only actionable if the business is able to address (and prepared to invest in) each of those areas. If you already know there is nothing you can do about the speed of delivery to your customers, then do not ask about it. If you already know you cannot act on an issue, then what the data say will not matter, nor will it matter how much insight you bring to that data. The decision will be the same, and the research will not be used.
Actionable research is not easy. It goes against our inclination as researchers to get the fullest possible picture of a problem so that we can offer multiple specific solutions and insights. It also requires a great deal of thinking, listening, and understanding from senior-level researchers who must be intent on understanding you and your business. The “actionable insights” boilerplate protocols will not work.
Here is a starting point we recommend: The Art of Asking Questions. This newsletter article from Versta Research focuses on asking the right questions of your business partners to ensure that research truly speaks to what they will do with it. It outlines a process you can use internally, and it is a process that we use with our clients as well. If you do it right, we guarantee you’ll hear your business partners thanking you for “the actionability of your deliverables” — or better yet, for delivering research they can really use.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.